Checking in on the Vancouver Canucks players at the World Championship
We're now into the final few days of round-robin action at the World Championship in Finland. So, this seems like a good time to catch up on the latest from the Canucks players who are in action in Helsinki and Tampere.
Let's start with Arturs Silovs, the 21-year old Latvian goaltender.
When I wrote my last blog on Thursday, Silovs had just been inserted for his first game action of the tournament. He took the Latvian net after Elvis Merzlikins got torched for five goals on 17 shots in the first period against the Czechs — who were buoyed by the arrival of David Pastrnak.
Silovs held the fort the rest of the way on Thursday, making 11 saves, but the Czechs still skated out with a 5-1 win.
Possibly exhausted after a season where he played 59 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Merzlikins delivered just one win in his first four starts. That may be part of the reason why Latvia gave Silovs the nod to make his first-career World Championship start on Friday against Austria.
The Austrians currently sit 18th in the IIHF World Ranking. They were added to this 16-team tournament, along with France, when Russia and Belarus were removed from the competition due to the war in Ukraine.
Both sides have made the most of their opportunity, and are unlikely to face relegation. France, now 13th in the world rankings, has picked up five points in five games, with a regulation win over Kazakhstan and an overtime win over Italy. Austria stunned the seventh-ranked Czechs with a 2-1 shootout win and took USA to overtime, giving them three points headed into their game against Latvia.
But Silovs stood tall. He allowed three goals on 32 shots through 65 minutes, then stopped four of five shots in the shootout to give Latvia the win, and two points in the standings.
Latvia currently sits fifth in Group B, but will be in tough to move up to fourth place and grab a spot in the quarterfinals. Still, it'll be great experience for Silovs if he sees more action as the Latvians play out their round-robin schedule. They'll face Great Britain on Sunday, then finish up against Sweden on Tuesday.
As for Oliver Ekman-Larsson's Swedish team, they were rolling — until Saturday, that is.
They opened their tournament with multi-goal wins over Austria, Czechia and Great Britain, then battled the host Finns for a 3-2 shootout win in front of a loud and hostile crowd in Tampere.
But on Saturday, Sweden suffered its first loss of the tournament — to a United States team that has been mostly underwhelming.
It turned out to be a battle of the Boston Bruins netminders. Known for their exuberant hugs when they are teammates, Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman kept it a little more subdued on Saturday.
In the end, the Swedes were undone by a pair of ex-Canucks. Nate Schmidt scored his first goal of the tournament and Adam Gaudette had a three-point game, with two goals including the overtime winner as the Americans took down the Swedes in the 3-on-3 extra frame.
Ekman-Larsson has had a quiet tournament offensively, with just one assist. Rasmus Dahlin has stepped up as Sweden's top offensive defenseman, with five points in five games, and is averaging at team-leading 22:39 per game compared to 18:56 for OEL. Adam Larsson is also playing a big role on the Swedish blue line, averaging 21:01 per game.
And as previously discussed, the Swedes have made some additions to their lineup following the first round of the playoffs. Carl Grundstrom joined the team from L.A., and Marcus Pettersson from Pittsburgh — and William Nylander is on his way.
Nylander hasn't suited up for a game yet, but his addition will bring Sweden's roster to the maximum of 25 players. That means Canucks prospect Linus Karlsson will not be registered and won't get a chance to go for gold.
But it's not all bad news for Karlsson. He was named the SHL's rookie of the year earlier this week.
I wonder if Karlsson's release speeds up the announcement of his signing with the Canucks? It has been rumoured for awhile that the deal is all-but-done, and the two sides were just waiting for his obligations in Sweden to be completed.
The Canucks' exclusive negotiating rights for Karlsson expire on June 1. The gold-medal game at the Worlds will be played on May 29.
Last on the list, there's Juho Lammikko, with the host Finns.
With fans filling arenas at the tournament for the first time since 2019, the Finns are putting on a show. They're playing at the brand-new Nokia Arena in Tampere, which has a capacity of just over 13,000 for hockey. The Finns have three shutouts in their first six games, all by Jussi Olkinuora, who served as Harri Sateri's backup on the gold-medal-winning Olympic team in Beijing in February. But Sateri played in what were arguably Finland's two toughest games, against the Swedes and the Latvians. And Finland has outscored its opponents 22-5 while building a record of 5-0-1-0, with that only blemish being the shootout loss to Sweden.
As for Lammikko, he has stayed out of the penalty box since taking that fighting major against Norway early in the tournament. He has one assist, and is averaging 13:21 of ice time per game.
The Finns now get two days off before wrapping up their schedule on Tuesday against Czechia.
On Saturday, the only two teams in the tournament with perfect records went head-to-head. And Switzerland came out on top, with a 6-3 win over Canada.
Led by Timo Meier and Nico Hischier, the Swiss are tied with Canada as the top-scoring team in the tournament, with 25 goals through five games. They'll finish out their round-robin schedule by playing France on Sunday and Germany on Tuesday.
Now with 12 points through five games, Canada is tied with Germany for second place in the Group A standings. The Canadians will finish up with what should be two relatively easy games, against Denmark on Monday and France on Tuesday.
Germany's leading scorer so far in this tournament is former Canuck Marc Michaelis, who has seven points in five games. The Germans' only loss to date came in the tournament opener against Canada. They'll finish out the round-robin by playing Kazakhstan on Sunday, then with the tough matchup against arguably their biggest rival, Switzerland, on Tuesday.